Bangor-Halifax agreement

Joseph M. Baldacci

As the chair of the Bangor City Council’s Special Committee on Halifax Pre-Clearance, I am pleased to report that the committee accomplished its mandate and the Bangor-Halifax agreement approved in October is a direct product of the framework created by the committee in public session during its last six months.

What is Halifax Pre-Clearance and what does it mean to Bangor? Halifax, Nova Scotia International Airport submitted an application to the U.S. government pursuant to a 2001 U.S.-Canada Air Service Treaty to have originating pre-clearance services in Halifax. This would allow travelers who originate in Nova Scotia to pre-clear U.S. Customs in Halifax instead of being required to do so in a U.S. airport.

The U.S.-Canadian Treaty allows such applications.

The city of Bangor was properly concerned about any expansion of pre-clearance. In this discussion it is important to note two different types of pre-clearance. One is originating (the passengers begin their flights from the host airport), and the other is in-transit (where flights coming in from other locations are cleared). Halifax’s application to Washington, D.C., was expressly limited to the former and Bangor’s concerns about losing business travel were focused almost entirely on the latter.

However, mutual suspicions left the two cities at a roadblock. For several years our congressional delegation, members of both parties, had effectively blocked Halifax’s requests and for several years cooperative efforts between Maine and Nova Scotia were undermined by this conflict. Several members of the City Council and Mayor Daniel Tremble felt it was time to move beyond the mutual skepticism and animosity.

The order approved by the Bangor City Council on April 26 created the Special committee to “Undertake a complete review of the city’s current position in opposition to the extension of pre-clearance to Halifax … and to investigate alternatives and whether such alternatives can be implemented” to protect the interests of Bangor International Airport.

Tremble asked that I serve as chair and with the contributions of Councilors Gerry Palmer and Peter D’Errico, former Airport Director Bob Zieglaar, Eastern Maine Development Corp. Director Jonathan Daniels, as well as City Manager Ed Barrett, Airport Director Rebecca Hupp and Assistant Director Tony Caruso, we worked together, reviewed all of the documentation, legal options and financial information from both sides to try to develop an alternative approach to this issue that could be win-win for both sides.

What the majority of the committee focused on was looking at this issue in the much larger and in the long-term much more important context of regional economic cooperation and strategies. The alternative approach consisted of obtaining a legally enforceable city to city agreement to bar Halifax from ever applying for in-transit pre-clearance (absent a directive from the U.S. government). This is something Bangor did not have previously and this effectively protects Bangor’s revenue stream from the clearing of international flights and related business travel.

Perhaps more important is our agreement to create an economic development partnership with Halifax to promote BIA and Bangor in larger regional efforts. In this effort, the assistance of former Gov. Ken Curtis, who served as ambassador to Canada under President Carter from 1979 to 1981, and his associate James Costello, was invaluable. The legal agreement was negotiated and approved by both Halifax and Bangor in late October.

I approached the work of the committee and this final product of an agreement with Halifax from the prospective of someone who not only has lived in Bangor my entire life (except for three years of law school), but also of someone who grew up knowing very well the history of the creation, development and growth of BIA.  My father served on the Bangor City Council from 1963 to 1975. During this time one of his proudest accomplishments was being part of the city’s redevelopment of the then mothballed Dow Air Force Base into a vibrant, economically productive, international airport.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, there were many local critics who ridiculed the idea of a city of less than 35,000 people operating an international airport. Let them ask that question today!

My dad was part of a group of councils who were able to see the economic importance of having BIA. My father served as one of the first chairman of the Airport Committee and never let us kids forget the economic importance of BIA.

I tried to remember those lessons when I served on the City Council. As mayor in 1999, I formed a special committee with Gov. Angus King, which among other things obtained nearly $1 million in state funds for a more aggressive marketing program to begin the upward climb in BIA’s international passenger numbers.

It was from this mind-set that I approached the work of the Committee and set out to determine whether any resolution of the Halifax Pre-Clearance issue could bring with it an opening for the creation of a partnership with our friends from the Maritimes.

In addition, we looked at concerns raised by airport staff regarding how security and staffing would be affected by what some perceived as a diversion of resources. Our concerns were articulated directly to Maine’s congressional delegation and through them directly to the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Customs and to the undersecretary of Homeland Security. The committee was satisfied in the representatives of the congressional delegation that they would continue to effectively represent BIA’s interests in the many different levels of federal decision-making.

The Bangor-Halifax agreement that we hammered out gives Bangor effectively a veto to any real or imagined effort by Halifax to obtain anything other than originating pre-clearance. That is something we did not have before.  The agreement establishes a process for Bangor and Halifax to partner in marketing, commercial airline service and regional economic development efforts.  The agreement provides for legal mechanism to enforce and to remedy any breaches, as well as establishing penalties for any violations.

Ultimately, the success of this agreement rests with Bangor and Halifax and their level of commitment to continue to work together to foster stronger regional economic ties. The agreement we reached gives Bangor an opportunity for partnership and development in an increasingly interconnected world. What we do with it and where we take it is up to all of us as citizens of this city and this great state.

Joseph M. Baldacci, a Bangor attorney, served as chair of the Special Committee on Halifax-Pre-Clearance, was elected to two terms on the Bangor City Council, serving from 1996-2002, and served a term as mayor of Bangor from 1998-1999.